Laughably low in concept, The Banshees of Inisherin is, on the surface, about a simple man living on a small Irish isle when his lifelong best friend abruptly and inexplicably decides he doesn’t want to be friends with him anymore.
From a writer-director who has yet to make a bad movie, Martin McDonagh’s fourth feature is, as expected, much deeper than its pretext. Starring Colin Farrell in one of his most against-type roles ever, Banshees has a lot to say about our preoccupation with how others view us and what happens when that preoccupation is taken to its extreme conclusion.
Farrell brings an unprecedented amount of charm to the relentlessly dull Padraic, whose obvious spectrum behavior gets written off as “simple” in 1923, even though everyone in town appreciates him for his earnest kindness. Brendan Gleeson plays Colm, a fiddler with fixations on being remembered for his musical greatness. Although Padraic hasn’t done anything to warrant Colm’s rejection, Colm insists that his ex-friend’s lack of ambition and interests are getting in the way of his own dreams.
Instead of moving on and accepting his dismissal, Padraic obsesses over the revelation and inadvertently can’t leave Colm alone. Frustrated with the disregard for his wishes, Colm threatens to cut off one of his own fingers every time Padraic bothers him. Ultimately, however, this threat changes nothing.
Quasi-allegorical in its absurd details, The Banshees of Inisherin is ultimately a think-piece about how humans are often so self-absorbed that we won’t allow ourselves to be rejected — even if we’d be better for that rejection — and how caring too much about what others think is, in fact, a form of self-sabotage. Padraic’s resiliency doesn’t just “cause” harm to Colm but causes him to lose his own dignity and likability in the process.
McDonagh doesn’t outright dismiss the perception of others as invaluable. Padraic greatly benefits from the love and acknowledgement of his sister and close friends. Rather, the director draws the line between the quantity and the quality of those who think highly of you. Our protagonist knows how much he’s cared for, but instead he tries to adapt to the rest of society’s opinions as well as Colm’s new, arbitrary standards.
It’s easy to see Colm as the antagonist here, but really, he suffers from the same ego affliction as Padraic; they’re both self-seeking, prideful individuals obsessed with how others view them. For Colm, he’s fixated on how he’ll be remembered and self-indulgently uses creativity as a means to prove his importance in this world and guarantee his legacy. On the other hand, if Padraic had just accepted Colm’s rejection, there wouldn’t have been any fallout.
Where most character studies focus on the protagonist’s journey alone, Banshees also provides for the audience the lens through which society perceives its characters. Just because Colm is more popular with townsfolk, despite being a jerk, he’s not any more of a villain than Padraic by the end. To make the comparison more clear and easier to swallow, McDonagh even inputs an actual villain in the form of an imperious policeman who bullies several characters throughout the film.
A master of balancing the cerebral with the lyrical, McDonagh is one of the most intriguing filmmakers of this generation, simply for how rarely he releases a new movie (his previous effort, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, came out 5 years ago) and for how undeniably masterful they’ve all been. Here, the director brings a purpose to his film in a way that justifies his modest story. Its minimalism not only makes it nearly as fascinating as his other endeavors but shows his range as a storyteller.
Like all of his pictures, location plays a big part in both mood and texture, with the community around Padraic and Colm helping to shape them and their motivations—albeit taken to a new, literal height here.
By all accounts, The Banshees of Inisherin should have been a slow, artsy think-piece made only for fans of meditative cinema and rich yet understated dialogue. But the director imbues every scene with engrossing plot details and his signature dark sense of humor — filling up the space in between with breathtaking shots of this Irish sea town. Few filmmakers can do more with less. Martin McDonagh is of a rare breed, indeed.
Twizard Rating: 100
Originally published at https://www.popzara.com/movies/vod-reviews/the-banshees-of-inisherin-2022/